What’s up for election? All five seats on the county board are up for election, including four commissioner seats and commissioner chairman. Both Republican commissioner candidates here automatically advance.
About the race: As usual, there’s a deep bench of candidates running for Swain commissioner. And in this Democratic leaning county, where it’s rare for a Republican to win local elections, the Democratic primary is always the most packed. The winners in the Democratic primary nearly always prevail come the general election. All five sitting commissioners are Democrats and are running for reelection.
This is the last year that all the commissioner seats will come up for election at the same time. Going forward, the terms will be staggered — instead of all the seats being on the ballot every four years, half the seats will be up for election at a time, with alternating seats up on the ballot every two years. This year’s commissioner election will set the stage for staggered terms. The top two vote getters will serve a full four years. But the third and fourth highest vote getters will only serve two years before their seats are up for election again. They will resume a four-year election schedule after that, with alternating election cycles established.
Swain voters approved the switch to staggered terms in a ballot question in 2012. It passed with 2,912 voters in favor of staggered terms compared to 1,930 against.
•David Monteith is the longest serving county commissioner with 16 years on the board. Retired Ingle’s market manager and a school bus driver.
•Donnie Dixon, a machinist at Conmet manufacturing plant, has been on the board for four years, plus a previous term in the 1990s.
•Steve Moon, owner of a tire shop, has served for 8 years.
•Robert White, retired school superintendant, has served for eight years.
•Correna Elders Barker
•Ben Bushyhead, a retired department director in Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians government. He narrowly lost in the 2006 election for the county board.
•Thomas Ray Simonds, foreman at Owle Construction
•Vida Cody, former county finance director who sued the county for wrongful firing
•Danny Burns, a Pepsi Cola technician
•Carolyn Bair, retired grocery store cashier and fast-food worker.
•Lance Grant II
Swain Comm. Chairman
•Phil Carson, on the board for eight years and chairman for the past four, works with his family-owned plumbing business.
•Boyd Gunter, 63, recently retired medical technologist at the VA Hospital in Asheville.
Gunter ran for commissioner four years ago but lost. He lives in the Alarka area. He believes the county’s outlying communities are not currently represented on the board.
About the race: Sheriff Curtis Cochran has served two terms as sheriff. And like his reelection campaign in 2010, he will once again face a suit of challengers, although not nearly as many this go around. When Cochran first won in 2006, the victory was narrow but impressive, as one of the few Republicans to ever serve as sheriff in this predominantly Democratic county — and given his odds as a novice lawman against the sitting sheriff at the time, who was a career law enforcement. Cochran’s first term was a bit rocky, with controversies including inmate escapes, a money-losing jail, and political feud with county commissioners. But his second term has been calm. Can Cochran hang on to the seat again?
• Sheriff Curtis Cochran
•Chuck McMahan retired in 2010 from the North Carolina Highway Patrol after 27 years of service. The candidate said he would like the opportunity to work to keep Swain residents safe. “I think there’s a need and I think I can make a difference.”
•George Powell has taught martial arts for the past three decades, currently overseeing the Shotokan School of Martial Arts and two regional non-profit Christian martial arts organizations. The retired police officer and detention officer previously ran for sheriff eight years ago. If elected, Powell said he would “hold officers accountable for their actions” and “get back to the basics of community policing.”
•Larry Roland currently works at the Microtel Inn in Bryson City and previously worked for the state prison system. The candidate believes the current powers-that-be are “abusing their powers.” “It’s just time for a change. That’s what everybody says, it’s time for a change.”
• Odell Chastain is a retired law enforcement officer who has worked at both the city and county level. Chastain said he is seeking office “because I’m a patriotic American and I see that our rights and our liberties are being taken away from us.”